LOS ANGELES-Spring time is here. Summer is just around the corner. That means that the track and field season is winding down to a close at the high school ranks across the country. But here in Los Angeles, with its year-round sunny weather, track and field is a sport that defies all seasons.
This is May. It is the time for senior picnics, proms and shutting down on the good times for outgoing seniors moving on to college and the real world.
But for track and field aficionados, May and June are the two months they most look forward to at the end of the calendar school year. Sandwiched between a world of more high-profile and better revenue-generated sports such as football and basketball, track and field has lost its luster and sustaining power over the years.
Attending dual meets during the regular season can be painful at times when you look up at the stands and only see a handful of parents or supports watching. This particular occurrence can be excruciating unbearable to watch at some CIF-Los Angeles City Section track meets, whether only the coaches, athletes, track umpires and one or two parents bother to show up.
It is quite a disturbing scene to see play out as young people-the future generation-compete and give their all in front of an empty-filled stadium that can easily hold several thousand people. Where is the love? In attending several Los Angeles City Section track and field meets this season.
I’ve come to realize the full extent of the apathy heavily soiled in urban communities.
Where is the support? Could it be that track and field, outside of the Olympics every four years or appearances at prestigious meets like the Penn Relays and the Mt. Sac. Relays, is a dead sport walking? Or is this just dilemma high schools are up against? Compared to other sports, track meets are generally inexpensive to come and watch, outside of state and national meets.
Dual meets tend to not cost anything. An average high school football game can cost anywhere in the range of $5 to $10, on an average night during the regular season. And yet, crowds from several hundred to upward of a couple of thousands folks can pack stands watching a high football game, whereas, track and field athletes get more attention paid to them by birds than they get from parents.
At the youth level, track is thriving. Somehow, running 200s and 1600 meters doesn’t translate into an attention grabbing sport at the high school level. Except for the big meet, track generally has little or no sport. When you compare it to high school volleyball, soccer, swimming, even wrestling, track and field have almost a dying sport in regards to participation and support-financially and otherwise.
So it’s a good thing that high schools are able to sanction conference meets like the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Marine League track and field finals, which takes place next week at Washington Prep High School in South Los Angeles. There you’ll be able to see the competitive spirits of determination from athletes that often get overlooked or bypassed during the doldrums of participating in dual track meets.
You’ll also see the beaming pride of anticipation from parents and supporters of these young people come into full force, which is a good thing. Some of that was on display during the Marine League track and field prelims at Washington Prep. As soon as you pull up to the school there was a certain buzz and chaotic scene about it that is normally not associated with practice or regular season meets.
Finding parking at a regular track meet between conference or league schools is like finding a place to park your vehicle at a store lot afterhours. On this particular day, it was far from that. Cars and trucks were packed in and around the school like sardines. Parents moved swiftly, bypassing idle sideliners, to get to the stands as to not miss their child’s race or field event.
The intensity on the faces of athletes on the track demonstrated focus and concentration. The stands became a viable breathing machine, voices of parents chirping out words of encouragement. Coaches moved about with purposeful intent of readying their athletes for their moment. For a few hours, it felt like the track had come alive again. There was energy. There was excitement. This is what track and field is all about.